Warren County delays fire station merger

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County leaders might merge two fire stations even if one volunteer group opposes the idea.

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 on Monday to table a proposed resolution of intent to consolidate the Rivermont and Fortsmouth volunteer fire departments and build a new station near the Front Royal-Warren County Airport. The resolution indicates the county would move forward and build a new station with or without Fortsmouth. If Fortsmouth opts out, the county would pull its local funding.

Instead, the board now plans to hold a public hearing on the consolidation on May 19.

Rivermont’s leadership endorses the consolidation but Fortsmouth oppose the plan, according to information from the county. The proposed resolution states that the board intends to cease funding Fortsmouth in four years if the organization chooses not to merge with Rivermont.

Supervisor Archie Fox made the motion to table the resolution and set a public hearing. Fox, along with County Administrator Douglas Stanley and Chief Richard Mabie, of the Department of Fire and Rescue Services, served on a committee with representatives of the volunteer organizations that met on numerous occasions over the past two years to discuss the matter. Both stations are in Fox’s magisterial district.

As proposed, the county would sell the existing fire station sites and build a new facility at property it owns at the intersection of Rivermont Drive and Stokes Airport Road. The county would merge the equipment or sell off any not needed. If Fortsmouth is not part of the equation, the county would work with Rivermont’s assets. Once the new station is complete, the county would continue operational funding for one facility at an annual savings of $65,000.

County officials estimate a new facility would cost $2.5-$3.5 million to build. The process of designing and building the new station would take four years.

“I don’t think there’s any question we shouldn’t support the building of a new fire department,” Fox said. “It’s very much needed for Rivermont.

“Constituents in my area have some concerns about the closing of Fortsmouth’s Fire Department … and it needs to be addressed,” Fox added.

Before the vote, Supervisor Tony Carter asked about the condition of Rivermont’s station. The county hasn’t examined the facility, Mabie said.

“We’re almost a little apprehensive about bringing somebody in, that they may close it today based on the current condition,” Mabie said. “They agreed there’s a lot of work that needs to be done so that station could continue operation and … we agree that it’s not very cost effective for a building that’s 60 to 70 years old.”

Rivermont bought an ambulance last year that couldn’t fit in the station so the department spent about $30,000 on an aluminum building to house the vehicle, Mabie said.

“So it looks like one way or the other we’re going to have to do something for [Rivermont] … it comes down to something that’s the most cost effective and the dearth of volunteers that we have,” Carter said.

The Rivermont Volunteer Fire Department was incorporated in 1996 and operates in a station built in 1954 on Rivermont Drive. The department serves the Rivermont and Otterburn areas. Fortsmouth Volunteer Fire Department incorporated in 1978 and operates from a station on Lower Valley Road to serve the Waterlick, Buckton, Lower Valley as well as the area along Va. 55 West.

A study of local emergency services and communications that the board adopted in 2009 recommends consolidation because of the deteriorating condition of the Rivermont station and the difficulty of Fortsmouth in attracting enough volunteers.

The proposed resolution states that, within two years of its adoption, the county shall begin negotiations and consultations with Rivermont and its leadership to develop plans and a funding proposal required to build a new station. The facility, owned by the county, either would house a combined department or just Rivermont should Fortsmouth decline the merger.

The construction would reach substantial completion no later that four years after the board adopts the resolution or two years after the county modifies the Airport Layout Plan.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com